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How plastic waste impacts avifauna across habitats

Jun 07, 2023

Picture: Col. Pankaj Sharma

New Delhi: A spot-billed pelican at a Chennai lake its bill tied shut by plastic, a vulnerable river tern flying over Najafgarh Jheel in Delhi carrying a plastic wrapper in its beak, swamp hens foraging for food beneath floating garbage at a pond in the NCR and an endangered steppe eagle sitting on a trash heap in Ranikhet, Uttarakhand — the exhibition ‘A Wasted Flight’ showcases how deep and wide the menace of plastic waste is and how it impacts avifauna.

The exhibition on World Environment Day on Monday is organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), NGOs and bird enthusiasts. Showing the dangers posed to birds by plastic waste, ‘A Wasted Flight’ will be on display at India Habitat Centre till June 10.

To show in start terms how the omnipresent plastic is causing damage to the ecosystems, whether they are terrestrial or aquatic and leaving the avian species vulnerable, bird photographers from across India have been documenting the negative impact of plastics on living creatures. Kanwar B Singh, founder of Indian Birds Community, one of the organisers of the exhibition, said, “Our birds are highly vulnerable to adverse effects of plastic. Tiny fragments of plastic constitute disease vectors because they carry bacteria, viruses and protozoa.”

Singh said the birds and other wildlife come across plastic in several ways, sometimes intentionally handling the synthetic material for nest-building, often coming into unintentional contact and entanglement, and regularly being ingested by both adults and juveniles, causing growth problems.

A wildlife photographer himself, Singh said that he had not so far seen any habitat across India that did not exhibit plastic’s footprint. “Whether it is the Himalayas, the Aravali, the coastal ghats, the Northeast or islands, plastic is everywhere,” Singh despaired. “Wherever I have travelled for birding, I have noted the presence of plastic. It has infiltrated deep into fragile habitats.”

UNEP India head Atul Bagai reiterated how plastic pollution was hitting the environment. “Plastic is devastating to wildlife and birds. It is toxic and can kill animals or birds or make them more susceptible to disease,” Bagai pointed out. “The animals can become trapped and injured by plastic. The material also disrupts habitats, making it hard for some species to live and breed naturally, thus causing depletions in populations. Plastic affects all life, from microscopic animals right up the food chain to large predators, even humans.”

Sunit Tandon, director, India Habitat Centre, rued that the modern world’s ever-increasing appetite for plastic products had resulted in the material becoming ubiquitous in every environment. “India Habitat Centre is very happy to host the exhibition to support this year’s World Environment Day theme on solutions to plastic pollution,” said Tandon.

One of the organisers, Bharati Chaturvedi, founder of NGO Chintan, said the exhibition intended to initiate discussions on scientific solutions offering a way out of the crisis. “We have curated the contributions of bird photographers from across India, creating a unique photography show,” she said.

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